Every Resurrection Sunday the entire church of Jesus Christ around the world gets an opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest works the Father in Heaven has ever completed. The Resurrection comes only after a long list of thrilling stories of our Master, and it puts the icing on the cake of His powerful life story. Consider this… Today we get to come to celebrate Jesus. But…why? The answer is simple. He defeated death. He walked out of the tomb… and people are touched by His love and changed by His power when they believe His message:
• There is the story of the young woman by a well – rejected repeatedly by people in her life and losing hope in love. She wonders if anyone, anywhere will see her as more than an object and truly look past her body and care for HER. John’s Gospel said that she met Jesus – and He spoke words that pierced her guarded and wounded heart. He told her that God loved her, and that the men in her life didn’t. She wouldn’t find affirmation and love from them – but could find it in the God that made her, and awaited her to open her heart to Him…All over the world today, people who have been bounced between parents every other weekend, and people who have been seen only for some personal talent or physical trait, those who have been treated more as a trinket but less than a person –hear of the One who poured out Himself for them in a way that no one else ever did!
• There is the story of a crusty, old religious man – a leader among his people. He counted the number of days ahead and saw them as fewer than those behind – and he wondered about the TRUTH of all that he spent his life believing… teaching. He wanted to KNOW that God wanted him, and that at the end of all the sacrifices, God would be pleased. Jesus met him and told him about a new birth – a new start that would give him true assurance of God’s love, and security in God’s arms at death. Those words filled his ears, and soon after they enlivened his heart.
• There are stories of the broken and the blind – one after the other – who felt the gentle touch of Jesus on their broken bodies. Helpless and hopeless people the world over can imagine being in the room when the light and color first make their way into a long darkened eye. They get it… they can dance with joy and sing with delight as they imagine Jesus gripping their hands and jumping for JOY with them! Colors flooded in. Darkness was driven out by the flood of hope and beauty! How many a man or woman has heard of our Savior’s work and found Him ready to take their darkness from them as well.
I could go on and on with His story. He danced and lept with the healed lame man, and he laughed until tears with His silly and sometimes senseless disciples. He LIVED a real life… and He died a real death. That made Him like so many other great men of the past – compassionate, caring and consoling. He inspired hope, offered help and evoked holy celebration… but that is just the beginning. His life was not only a good example, it was a life marked with PURPOSE. The Bible says He was born a lamb, a substitute, a sacrifice for the sin of others. He died an innocent man – but He faced the turning away of His Heavenly Father on the Cross – a union that had never seen any breach in time or even before time was. God turned away from His Son as part of the judicial penalty of my sin… your sin… the rebellion and mutiny of all mankind. “The chastisement was placed on Him to make peace for us”, the Bible says. His blood washed the stench of our rebellion from the nostrils of the Living God. In this place and on this day many will believe His words – but not everyone. Here is the truth…
Key Principle: Jesus can change your life – if you will take Him at His word. If you don’t, you will leave the way you were when He tried to meet you.
Before you dismiss Jesus, you should know that the picture of Jesus from the Gospels is not an angry face of One Who is mad at you for your failures, protesting bitterly what you have done wrong. He wants to meet you where you are, and then He wants to make you NEW. You won’t be the same if you believe Him.
How does He change us? To explain, I want to open look at two simple and clear passages from the Bible. If you have a Bible with you, turn to Genesis 2 … This is a story about a garden, and a story about a woman. In fact – it is a story about a very old wound we all deal with every day. In Genesis 2, God created a beautiful garden.
Genesis 2:8 The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” 18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”
Picture the beauty of that place! The Bible tells us simply that:
• It was a garden whose designer was God the Creator (2:8).
• It was the home planned for the man made by God (2:8b).
• It had abundance, and yielded a vast array of luscious fruits (2:9).
• It had a special tree, a tree of boundary – a tree of trust in God’s provision and care – called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9b).
• It was well-watered and secure from drought (2:10).
• It contained a vast supply of beautiful and precious minerals – gold and precious stones (2:11-14).
• God placed man there, and gave him two JOBS – work the land and guard the garden (2:15).
• The entire garden was HIS to meet every need – with one exception. One tree was not to be harvested – its fruit was not for the man (2:16-17).
• God recognized man’s need for companionship and help – to make his life meaningful in the garden work. Man needed woman to impress, accomplish for, and dwell with (2:18).
• Man needed to SEE the need for woman, so God had him name the animals, until he felt what God had already concluded – that he needed one compatible to him to love (2:19-20).
• God took a part of man and fashioned woman – of the same genetic material and chemical design – and formed his helper (2:21-22).
• Man saw the helper, and was overwhelmed with the gift of God, and stunned by her beauty. For the first time, he had someone to love, impress and guard (2:23). He felt important in a whole new way – and he felt, for the first time, the impulse to share his lunch with someone else! (2:23).
What a scene! Happiness, beauty and security abounded. The garden was a place of color, beauty, sweet smelling joy and excitement. Drop down to the words of Genesis 2:25 “…And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Man was OK with himself. Woman was OK with herself. No advertisements made them feel inadequate. No self-image marred – no need for better makeup or another exercise machine. The issue wasn’t whether they were beautiful enough or felt important enough – they were happy with who God made them. They were happy with one another. They were content with life.
Enter the tempter (3:1). Behind the scenes, God’s enemy, a fallen and disgruntled angel and a band of his follower slithered into the garden. Temptation gave way to sin, and sin opened a series of “domino falling failures”:
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make [one] wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
Do you see what happened to the man and woman?
1) The man was to guard the garden and failed – exposing his wife to the tempter and not governing the parameters of God (3:1b).
2) The woman entertained the question of God’s authority over her and focused on the one thing God told them to leave alone (3:2-3).
3) The serpent accused God of holding back on them and they succumbed to the idea that God wasn’t who He claimed to be (3:4-6).
What came from the fall was terrible:
- LOSS of INNOCENCE – “eyes were opened” (3:7a),
- DEATH of intrinsic positive SELF IMAGE – “knew they were naked” (3:7b),
- SHAME – “covered themselves” (3:7b); DISTANCE from God (3:8) and
- GUILT – the FEAR to be seen of God (3:10).
The bottom line is that man’s pain came from his rebellion – and so does YOURS. When we decide we know better than God, we forgo the benefits of trusting Him to meet our every need. We lose out on blessing. We gain shame, discontent, guilt and a host of problems.
Look at the universal and lasting results from the fall experience:
Genesis 3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” 16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” 17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” 20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all [the] living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
1) BLAME: Man tried to blame the woman for his lack of guardianship and leadership (3:12) – the leader blames the followers! Woman blamed the tempter (3:13) – the shopper blames the advertiser for MAKING HER BUY the product!
2) WAR: God promised to put a battle between the deceiver and man through the Messianic seed (3:15). Every believer that faces pains of the enemy and his warfare can trace the struggle of Ephesians 6 back to this moment – not to mention the PRICE of the Cross!
3) PHYSICAL PAIN replaced the joy of the reproductive system. A collective groan may now raise from the females of the assembly! The pain of childbirth is not ALL there is to this!
4) A REBELLION HELPER: Woman was made to AID man in his walk with God – and now she would COMPETE with him and help him by supplying her own rebellion (3:16b). She will want HIS JOB – and struggle with submission.
5) STRUGGLE: Because of the lack of guardianship and leadership, God ends His dealings with their rebellion in words to Adam – the work I gave you will now be a struggle. The ground won’t cooperate (3:17b-19).
6) DEATH: An innocent animal died to make a covering for the man and his wife (3:21). The skins of animals were wrapped around the guilty.
Your painful struggle today is directly related to the rebellion against God and its effects. For a resolution, God provided a covering – but it required the life of another.
The largest thermonuclear bomb ever built and detonated on Earth was exploded on October 30, 1961 above Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic Circle. The bomb was dropped by Russian Soviets in an attempt to intimidate Americans. Its name: “Tsar Bomba” or “King of the Bombs.” It had the explosive power of 53 megatons (53 million tons of TNT) – more than ten times the power of all the bombs dropped during World War II, including the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima (15 kilotons) and Nagasaki (22 kilotons). The explosion was so intense that the flash was visible over 600 miles away, and people felt the air move over 160 miles away. Everything in a radius of 15.25 miles was completely destroyed. Very severe damage extended to a distance of 21.5 miles & the heat was so intense that people over 60 miles away would have experienced third degree burns if anyone had been there. All this came from a bomb that was a little over 26 feet long and had a diameter of a little over 6 feet. It was large to be sure, but it was tiny when you look at the power it packed. Big things come in little packages. The same is true of sin.
Coming out of the scene – the world was forever changed!
I stop on this passage a second time to look carefully at it for good reason. The pain of every minute of every day from that time until now came from that Garden scene. You can draw a direct line between that rebellion long ago and the painful experiences we see all around us today.
According to one record, in America every 24 hours:
• 3,000 children see their parents divorced.
• 1,629 children are put in adult jail.
• 3,228 children run away from home.
• 1,512 children drop out of school.
• 7,742 teens become sexually active.
Pain. Stop and consider how devastating the Garden scene was for each of us. Every innocent child that has been abused can draw a line back to that moment of rebellion. Every cancer patient can draw that same line. Hum in the background the anthem of humanity before God. Can you hear it? “I Did It My Way” is more than Frank Sinatra’s theme. It is also the story of the fallen human nature. It is not just human nature in general – it is yours and mine as well. Our insistence on our way rather than God’s way explains a lot of human experience.
Don’t squirm, we all know it is true. One Pastor wrote in an article I clipped: “There are people in our church involved in stealing. You go to work and turn in a time card or reimbursement or mileage sheet that you know is false. There are folks in our church involved in sexual sin. We have some in our church addicted to internet pornography. We have some involved in promiscuity or an extramarital affair. We have some who are so consumed with lust that they undress people around them with their imaginations. We have people here who lie. We like to call them “white lies” so they don’t sound as bad. According to James Emory White, “91% of all Americans confessed that they regularly lied. 79% had given out false phone numbers or invented new identities when meeting strangers on airplanes. 20% said they couldn’t get through even one day without going along with a previously manufactured lie. We have people here whose tongue is the most active muscle in their bodies. These are the ones who “don’t want to gossip, but…” There are people here who can’t talk to people nicely or who curse in anger.”
Don’t pull away – you came to the right place. We aren’t here because we are good. We are here specifically because we ARE NOT GOOD and are desperate for God’s love and grace amid our sin sick world. We get it. We don’t trust ourselves. We know better. We are our parents – fresh from the garden and full of rebellion!
You see, the story of the Bible doesn’t end with the SIN, brokenness, darkness and its power. The Bible moves on to another Garden Story… This one powerfully unwinds, bit by bit, the destructive power of the GARDEN OF THE FALL. It is the garden we came to celebrate today, and it is found in John 20…
First, the time was given: It was a FIRST DAY – a NEW BEGINNING.
John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came… early to the tomb…”
John simply says Mary Magdalene came. Matthew 28:1 adds that she was accompanied to the grave by other women to see what they could do about finishing the work on the broken body of Jesus. Mark 16:1-3 identified two other women in the scene – Mary “the mother of James” and Salome, the mother of some of the disciples, and well known to the team.
Second, the place was specified: It was a TOMB – AN OLD REMINDER OF PAIN.
John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came… early to the tomb…”
Our story is in a backdrop of one picture – a tomb to remind us of the death that came from the sin garden. Standing there, the anthem in the background is this: “The wages of sin is death.” The ladies walked, but their hearts were broken to the point where the conversation was only about the next responsibility. You can almost feel their numbness. It is the pain of separation. It is the disappointment and sadness and emptiness of loss.
We have all lost someone. In our natural state, death separates us from them. We come to the grave with only aching loss and despair. We weep – it is all that one who does not know God can do. At death, God’s presence can seem far away – and we can feel abandoned to figure out life on our own. That garden of death – like our most meticulously manicured cemetery – held no beauty in their eyes. Breakfast had no taste. Death seemed like an END… a DEAD END.
Third, the hopelessness was expressed: It was DARK – A MOMENT OF CHILLY UNCERTAINTY.
John 20:1b …”while it was still dark…”.
Can you feel the weight of the words? “IT WAS STILL DARK….” The three women descended below the angle of the breaking sun into a rock cut quarry. It was a shadowy and dark place, with the sun not yet making things clear. They were in the dark – and had no idea that the greatest discovery in their lives was about to take place! The insurmountable wall between the Dead One and the living had been breached – but they were still walking in the dark.
Fourth, the breach was declared: The tomb was OPEN – GOD BROKE DOWN THE BARRIER OF DEATH.
John 20:1b …”and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb”
The story of Easter is not about how men in their efforts pried open a breach and finally reached God. It is a story about how God powerfully shook the earth and pushed aside a blocking stone – THE OBSTACLE THAT SEPARATED THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. He broke the power of death, long ago imposed in sin’s garden– bringing victory over death. With the stone gone, a narrow door was exposed, and the door opened between eternity and our physical world.
Do you see it? God broke in to man’s world. God moved a stone. God tore down the wall between man and eternity and shattered the power and mystery of death. God did it all in a dramatic and bold statement from the spiritual world. The narrow passage of the Christian faith is that one must accept that God did these things, or remain in the darkness outside the tomb – offering other explanations for the stone’s displacement and the body’s removal.
But that is not all there is to tell the story of the Gospel…
Fifth, the alarm was sounded: Jesus was GONE – DID GOD REALLY DO IT? (20:2).
John 20:2 “So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
John seemed anxious to bring the disciples into the story. He left out what happened to the women between the discovery of the empty tomb and the sharing of that news in the room with the hiding disciples. He offers the truncated story that showed how the disciples first encountered the empty tomb, but didn’t understand its meaning:
John 20:3 “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. … 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”
Did you notice the words “They believed”. They believed the body was MOVED, not that Jesus was risen. They were like so many other people today… they thought that Jesus was a GOOD MAN. They knew His body was gone… but they didn’t really believe that GOD JUST BROKE THROUGH THE BARRIER OF DEATH.
What was the problem? It is found in verse nine – THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE THE WORDS OF THE SCRIPTURE.
• They believed that their Master could call forth Lazarus.
• They believed that He could do miracles.
• What they didn’t believe – what didn’t make sense to them – was the WORD OF GOD AS PROMISED.
Jesus already shared with His followers that His death was coming but it would NOT be His end… Matt 16:21 after the disciple’s final exam and before the Transfiguration made this clear: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
So it comes down to this: Is the Bible telling the truth? Do you believe that God rolled the stone away? Did Jesus conquer death? Is His Word true when He said: John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
Sixth, the choice was made: The Word was TRUE – JESUS HAD RISEN!
The disciples eventually DID truly believe, and we got the record of these event from them. They claimed they were “eyewitnesses”, and that Jesus was telling the truth:
They made a choice, and they offered YOU and I the same choice….John 20:30 “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name”.
We need to reckon with the choice: He is the way, or He is not. His words are true, or He is a fake. The Bible is God’s Word – or it is a book of lies for which people have lived a false hope and followed a false teaching. Answer the question carefully – for EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS YOUR LAST BREATH DEPENDS ON THE ANSWER. IT IS YOUR CHOICE. He is Risen, or He is NOT.
Under torture, they died proclaiming that He AROSE. It gave them confidence and assured them that God accepted the sin sacrifice. They DIED knowing He was who the One of whom Scriptures foretold. They left us a full record that we might believe as well…
I have heard that possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so because you hardly ever see one except when it’s dead on the road. But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there’s just one set of tracks going into it. They know there’s something in there. But if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and not be afraid. The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave – we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb.
How does He plan to change us?
He will do it from the INSIDE OUT, beginning with our acceptance of His Word.